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January 14, 2013

New additions make instant impact on Tech women's basketball team

By: Marc Mullen

Uju Ugoka scored 28 points and grabbed eight rebounds in her
Tech debut, and the coaching staff expects more games like that
from her in the future.

Much like most kids in December – who just can’t wait to open their presents on Christmas Day – Tech women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff had to be patient and wait for the unveiling of a pair of his gifts, two newcomers who were not available at the start of the season.

Both junior transfer Uju Ugoka and freshman Hannah Young were not able to play for the Hokies in their first nine games for various reasons. The pair, who also had to be patient and wait for their time to get on the court, each made their debut on Dec. 22 against Wake Forest, with Ugoka making an impressive first appearance and Young playing 10 minutes.

“We really weren’t sure what we were going to expect with Uju being out for nine games, and this is about as good as you can expect for someone’s first game back,” Wolff said of Ugoka’s effort against the Demon Deacons.

“With Hannah, we were just trying to keep it simple. I wanted her to get her feet wet before Christmas. I’m actually surprised she took the two shots she did because she was very nervous and only had one day of practice with us and she’s thrown into a game.”

Ugoka’s debut did not disappoint, as the 6-foot-1 forward turned in a 28-point, eight-rebound performance against Wake Forest in a 73-52 Tech win, which helped her be named the ACC’s Player of the Week for her effort. The 28 points were the most ever by a Hokie in a home ACC game and her 13 made field goals were one shy of tying the Cassell Coliseum record for made baskets in a single game.

The Lagos, Nigerian native and Gulf Coast State transfer followed that effort with her first double-double of the season, grabbing a team-season high 12 rebounds to go along with 10 points in just 23 minutes of action in a 58-39 win over North Carolina A&T. And then in her next two ACC games, she went for 16 points and six rebounds at Virginia and 15 and five at North Carolina

“I’ve been waiting for this day because I’ve sat out for nine games, and I couldn’t wait for this game,” Ugoka said after the Wake Forest contest. “I was mentally prepared, and my teammates were encouraging me. This was my first ACC game, and I needed to take my time and just play my game, so that’s what I did.

“I was just feeling it. I was just so excited and the crowd was cheering for me, and I could just feel the presence of everyone around me and that motivated me to keep playing hard.”

Unlike Ugoka, Young, a 6-1 forward from Newcastle, Australia, was not able to practice with the team while missing her nine games and is still learning Wolff’s system. However, she has been getting consistent playing time since her debut and even made a start – against Hampton, when she scored her first collegiate basket, had four steals and grabbed three boards in a season-high 21 minutes played.

Hokies win ACC opener – again

Thanks in part to Ugoka’s effort, combined with junior guard Monet Tellier’s 23-point, eight-rebound, two-steal and two-assist afternoon against Wake Forest, the Hokies won their first ACC home game since Tellier joined the team.

“I just mentioned that to the team. It feels good, but there should be more to come,” Tellier said of the first ACC home win in her career. “We are excited that we won this game, but it’s just one game, and we have to keep looking toward the next game.”

Tech won its ACC season opener for the second straight year – a first since the team joined the conference. The last time the team won back-to-back conference openers came when the Hokies were in the BIG EAST and won three in a row from 2002-04. The victory improves the team to 4-5 in ACC season openers.

“I am encouraged,” Wolff said of the team’s effort in the ACC opener. “I’m not going to be jumping around here and acting like we are going to win the national championship. We beat an ACC for the first time, a team that had beaten us six straight times. I thought we played well to do it. This was probably as good a game as we played since I’ve been the coach here.”

In that game, Tellier finished a basket shy of giving Tech its first pair of players to reach 25 points or more in more than 25 years. Joyce Waddy (31) and Susan Walvius (29) were the last Hokie teammates to score at least 25 points in the same game, doing so in a game versus Mercer on Feb. 22, 1986.

Tech stays defensive as it enters ACC play

So far this season, the Hokies have allowed teams to reach at least 60 points just four times, and two of those teams rank in the top 25 nationally in points per game as of press time (Appalachian State, 16th, and Penn State, 25th). Also, Tech has played one of the toughest schedules in the country – ranked in the top 10 by two separate websites (official NCAA rankings have yet to be released).

So it may be a bit of a surprise that, through games played Jan. 3, 2013, the Hokies were 30th in the latest NCAA national statistics in scoring defense at 52.5 points allowed per game. Those numbers did not include holding No. 15 North Carolina to its lowest output all year at 48 points in a three-point loss in Chapel Hill on Jan. 7. That did, however, help the team lower its ACC-only scoring defense to 50.7 points a game, which leads the league through three games.

“I’m proud of the team’s effort, but as we are all aware, this is about winning and losing,” Wolff said after the Florida Gulf Coast loss in which the team surrendered 63 points.

After the 60-41 Penn State loss, he said, “I thought the team did a terrific job with trying to stay with what our game plan was defensively. It’s really too bad. I think it is very difficult for this team, with how hard they are working on defense, if we can’t get some shots to go, because then it just seems you’re on defense the whole time.”

That tide should turn a bit now with the additions of Ugoka and Young, who give Wolff a full 15-person roster heading into the rest of the ACC slate.